Friday, August 26, 2011

Becoming a Writer

I became a writer when my thoughts became too personal for a diary. No surprise, since my parents did not believe in privacy for children. And they saw me as a child, even in high school. Instead of acting out like so many my age, I learned to craft the illusion of fiction.

My early poetry read like encoded diary entries. I could write anything and, if questioned, claim I made it all up. Blooming crushes and broken hearts echoed inside me, growing to such a cacophony that I had no choice but to release them. Disjointed thoughts turned to rhyme, and the din to rhythm. The world made a bit more sense against a white backdrop.

Not that I really thought of myself as a writer back then. That distinction belonged to the professionals. I assumed that making a living at writing took all the fun out of it.

So I plodded ahead, untrained and untried, churning out one insipid poem after another. My friends got hooked, coming back for regular doses of Harlequinesque poetry. But I knew I could do better. At least I hoped so.

Maybe that's when I truly became a writer--the moment when I thought to reach beyond my limited experience and into the unknown. It wasn't enough that I should learn to write. I had to learn about everything. A dollop of psychology. A smattering of sociology. And plenty of field work.

I discovered a fascinating world outside my imagination, full of fabulous characters just waiting to be penned. Like the man on the bus who shook out his hat every three minutes. And the woman with pencils sticking out of her coifed hair. I dubbed her the street geisha. A few of my silent friends found their voices in poetry, like the swarthy man in black who loped past my appointed spot at the coffee shop. Others spoke out through fiction. "Sweetapple" was my favorite, another patron of the Metro Transit system. He looked worn out by living. I wanted to know why, so I invented his biography.

A different sort of reality hampered my creativity several years ago. Faced with corporate downsizing, I chose to make the leap to a new employer and more challenging work. Climbing the learning curve left little energy for writing. But the words inside my head wouldn't stay bottled up for long. I returned to my first love, poetry, then branched out to short essays, knowing that fiction would return in its own time.

When did I become a writer? It's been an ongoing process, full of fresh insights and challenged perceptions. Writing is a lifelong education. If I ever think I've mastered the craft, then I'll know I missed a step along the way.

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